Elfrid Payton, an outside-the-norm point guard and a perfect fit

Apr 10, 2015; Orlando, FL, USA; Orlando Magic guard Elfrid Payton (4) points from the court against the Toronto Raptors during the second quarter at Amway Center. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 10, 2015; Orlando, FL, USA; Orlando Magic guard Elfrid Payton (4) points from the court against the Toronto Raptors during the second quarter at Amway Center. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports /

Elfrid Payton is in a perfect position to have a breakout 2015-16 campaign courtesy of the Magic’s new acquisitions.

The Orlando Magic have taken their time since the Dwight Howard trade took them out of the realm of relevancy in the Eastern Conference.

Drafting Victor Oladipo and being patient with trade-acquired prospects Tobias Harris and Nikola Vucevic have given the Magic a core to build around. Throwing Aaron Gordon and Mario Hezonja into that mix only strengthens Orlando’s young core and provides them options moving forward.

Patience has been key, both for the Magic as an organization as well as their young players.

But what about now? What about this upcoming season?

Orlando has the look of a team that wants to move north in the Eastern Conference standings now. A new head coach, the pursuit of Paul Millsap and the re-signing of Tobias Harris indicate to the public the Magic are serious about getting good now.

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  • The rebuild needs to take its next step and in today’s NBA, no rebuild is complete without a competent point-guard.

    Enter: Elfrid Payton, the 10th overall draft selection of 2014 by the Philadelphia 76ers who was traded to Orlando in exchange for the rights to Dario Saric and two future draft picks. Payton’s draft night exchange was, in the minds of many, among the best things that could have happened to him.

    Landing with the Magic — an organization that has proven they have no problem with allowing players to develop — is exactly what a player like Payton needed. Though his jump shot is a mess, Payton has shown himself to be a phenomenal perimeter defender and a stat-sheet stuffer, able to rebound exceptionally well for his position and set up his teammates for scoring opportunities.

    More than his jump shot, Payton’s scoring last season was an absolute travesty. He averaged 8.9 points per game on 42 percent shooting from the field. Not bad marks by any means, but a closer look appears less optimistic.

    Payton took nearly half (49.8 percent) of his shots from inside the restricted area, only yielding a 49 percent shooting mark from that area of the floor. Beyond that, he failed to shoot above 40-percent from anywhere else on the court.

    However, all of that may not matter.

    It appears there will be loads of floor-stretching players on the Magic’s roster heading into next season, even with Payton and Oladipo working out their shots. Rather than use that shooting to orbit a big man in the post like was done with Dwight Howard, Payton can use this shooting ability to spearhead a back-court based attack more directly and effectively.

    Payton will be afforded more opportunities to engage in a Rajon Rondo-esque method of facilitating. While defenders are more or less clearing the paint in favor of sticking to their perimeter-capable assignments, Payton should be able to use his speed and ball-handling to attack inside, force a defensive collapse, and find an open shooter.

    That can work as a “use as needed” style but more importantly, floor-spacing can exaggerate the capabilities of an offensive scheme, much like was done in Atlanta this past season. Everyone on the floor for the Hawks could space the floor in some capacity, combined with great off-ball movement, Atlanta’s system hummed all the way to the Eastern Conference’s best record.

    Orlando does not need to run quite as much of a ball-sharing system next season, and, even if the team wanted to, it probably could not. Instead, the Magic can swing the ball on the perimeter as needed rather than as instructed still allowing the likes of Harris and Oladipo to finish isolation-friendly possessions.

    These things will help Payton — a point-guard operating outside today’s NBA norm — immensely.

    So too will his continuing developing jump shot. Payton has worked tirelessly throughout the summer on this already and brought it out in earnest throughout the Summer League.

    In short: the borders defining the point guard position have become somewhat blurry in recent years, the position’s duties are still, in most cases, to run the offense and distribute the ball despite many teams moving in favor of combo guards and scoring point guards. As a result of this transition, the point guard who is not a terrific shooter needs to be offset by his teammates.

    Think Rondo in Dallas. While Dirk Nowitzki, and Chandler Parsons are both good shots from distance (both shot 38-percent from deep last season) many of the other players that saw action alongside Rondo are not. Monta Ellis and Al-Farouq Aminu — who were both sub-30-percent 3-point shooters last season — come to mind.

    Moreover, Rondo was put in a position in which he had to start next to another ball-dominant guard in Ellis. Payton will not have these problems. While Oladipo and Harris take the ball into their own hands when needed, it is not a necessity and both can exist off the ball just fine.

    When the offense breaks down and someone needs to make some magic (pun definitely intended) Oladipo and Harris — among others — will still be afforded opportunities to show off their individual skills.

    The wealth of shooting talent Orlando has amassed will ensure Payton does not suffer the same fate as many other guards who have shoddy shooting skills.

    That being said, there should be plenty of a Payton-Evan Fournier duo in the backcourt. Fournier works off the ball to get open and is emerging as a go-to three-point shooter as he is yet to shoot below 37-percent from deep through his first three NBA seasons.

    Rookie Mario Hezonja, who Orlando drafted with the fifth selection in this year’s draft, undoubtedly will go through a period or two next season in which he struggles getting his shots off at an NBA speed, but nonetheless, he is a shooter and finisher who can compliment a point guard well once he develops his off-ball skills and understanding of floor spacing tactics.

    Look for Payton’s already impressive assist numbers from his rookie season (6.5 per-game) to balloon in a very spacious, offensively talented atmosphere.

    The tools for Payton to be a successful outlier of the modern point-guard mold are in place and look to be for a while but it is up to him to show the league that he can be a top-flight guard.

    Next: Orlando Magic satisfied with week, still hungry to win